I came across a thread on Reddit earlier where a United fan claimed that only good things can come of this draw.
His reasoning? If we lose, everyone will be talking about Bayern’s brilliance. If we win, we’ll have beaten the best team in the world, and we’ll start commanding some respect again.
As much as I’d love to believe that we should be grateful we’ve drawn Bayern in the quarter-finals, I’m struggling to make that leap. If we lose, it will simply be another knock to our collective confidence – I don’t think there’s any way you can spin that outcome into a positive scenario. Losing is never something we should just quietly accept. If we win… well, I’ll be partying pretty hard, but is there really any chance that could happen? This is the team that beat Barca 7-0 on aggregate last season, after all.
Below, I’ve summarised the seemingly monumental obstacles that stand in our way, and a few factors that might give us a shred of hope…
4 Reasons Bayern Will Probably Win
1. Tactical Superiority
Pep Guardiola is one of the best tactical minds in the game today. In knock-out football, that tends to count for a lot, and based on what we’ve seen from Moyes so far, that’s a worry. If we can’t figure out how to beat the likes of Fulham at home, then the prospect of a tactical tête-à-tête between Pep and DM seems pretty dreadful; a complete intellectual mis-match. Imagine if Peter Andre was invited onto BBC Question Time to debate the crisis in Syria. That’s kind of what this resembles in my mind.
The most worrying thing is that Bayern don’t have to be anywhere near their best to stroll past the opposition, as we saw in the last round against Arsenal.
2. Strength in Depth
Bayern’s strength in depth is frightening. Their midfield is everything ours isn’t, and their overall squad is more than strong enough to challenge for silverware on multiple fronts, as their incredible 5 trophies in 2013 confirmed. You might argue their defence could be stronger, but with the outstanding Neuer between the sticks, they’re not exactly soft at the back. And the fact that there’s talk of Kroos leaving (hopefully for United), is “perhaps final proof of their riches.”
By contrast, we’ve got a notoriously under-stocked midfield, and we’ll be without 2 of our key players, for the first leg at least, with RVP injured and Evra suspended. The thought of Buttner vs Bayern is not something I want to linger on for too long.
3. They’ve Pretty Much Won the League Already
As of today, Bayern are 51 games unbeaten in the Bundesliga – their 2-0 victory at Mainz (their 18th consecutive win!) puts them within 3 points of clinching the title. And with an embarrassingly plump 23-point cushion between them and 2nd-placed Dortmund, they could field their under-18s for the rest of the season if they wanted to.
That position of absolute domestic dominance leaves Bayern free to focus fully on the Champions League, unlike any other side in the competition. They can rest their key players as much as they want, and will undoubtedly be far fresher than United when we face them on 1st April.
4. They Have Formidable UCL Pedigree
Experience is worth a lot at this level, and Bayern have plenty of it. This club has been in 10 Champions League finals, and they are 5 times winners (1974, 1975, 1976, 2001 and 2013). It’s fair to say they feel right at home in Europe, whilst there’s a very good chance we could be facing a year with no European football at all.
4 Reasons United Could Pull it Out of the Bag
The scene I’ve painted so far is admittedly pretty bleak. Let’s face it, the odds are stacked against us, but Moyes says he’s seen things United can exploit. So how can Man Utd beat Bayern?
1. Bayern’s Weaknesses
Every team has weaknesses, but United will have to exploit these to the full against Bayern. That means we need to study their shape, their movement, and their approach in forensic detail over the coming weeks, and the players need to be incredibly well-drilled.
Moyes has been criticised this season for his stubborn reliance on wing-play, but with Lahm and Alaba bombing forward with abandon, then tucking in to support the midfield when Bayern don’t have the ball, there’s an opportunity to bypass these ‘false full-backs’ and race to the byline unchecked. For this to work, we’ll need Januzaj and Valencia always available to receive the ball, carrying it forward with speed, and delivering precise crosses to Rooney and Welbeck in the box. Could this be the game that Moyes’ default settings actually make some sense?
The worry is that Guardiola will react faster if he sees his system isn’t working, whereas Moyes usually seems to lack a plan B (or indeed, in the eyes of many observers, a plan A). And we can’t just rely on hammering the wings – we need to punish Bayern’s high line and disrupt their rhythm with aggressive, high-pressing, counter-attacking football. If Moyes can make that happen – and it’s a very big ‘if’ – we might have a chance.
2. The Underdog Factor
Man Utd are undoubtedly the underdog for this fixture, and indeed the team most see as least likely winners of the tournament. That’s not a position we’re used to, but it should certainly take some pressure off, and maybe it’s something that will motivate the players to prove what they can really do.
3. The Fans
The atmosphere was great at Old Trafford against Olympiacos on Wednesday, and De Gea later acknowledged the part the fans had played. Against Real last year, it was absolutely, deafeningly, life-affirmingly electric inside Old Trafford, and we need to make it even better this year against Bayern, especially with the disadvantage of playing the first leg at home. If you’re going to the match, you have a real part to play in the outcome – if you can still speak the next day, you’re doing it wrong.
4. The Spirit of ‘99
Ultimately, I get the feeling that if we do make it through this, it’s unlikely to be a tactical victory. Obviously, Moyes needs to put some serious thought into how he sets up his team, but United need to tap into the underdog factor, feed off the fans, and channel the spirit of ‘99. That was the ultimate reminder that anything’s possible, and Bayern will always be haunted by that crazy climax in the Nou Camp.
Whatever happens, this is United, and believing is what we do.